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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 31st October 2014 at 2:00 pm
Ever since I started blogging, I’ve been whinging about terribly mismatched headliners and their support acts. (Pretty sure the worst pairing I’ve ever seen was LA punk band Abe Vigoda opening for Vampire Weekend at Constitution Hall in April 2010.) Earlier this week, I probably witnessed the best pairing of my life so far: Kettering’s Temples, who have made their name in the 21st century by successfully resurrecting late ’60s psychedelia, were preceded by Brooklyn band Spires, who might not look as wigged out as Temples but they’ve got the same vibe. Both made their 9:30 Club debut in Washington Tuesday evening.
Yet to be signed Spires were originally started by singer/guitarist Matt Stevenson, whose intention was to make it a home recording project. Eventually, I guess touring became a viable and potentially profitable option once band members Jack Manley (guitar), Michael Goodman (guitar/synth), Jack Collins (bass) and Carter McNeil (drums) were added. Last year, NME dubbed them “the US’ answer to Temples”, which makes one wonder if Temples were sat around a laptop one day to come up with potential bands to take around America as support, Googled what bands were being compared to them and came across that NME blog entry. No matter how this all came out, it’ll go down as one of the better matched band bills in recent memory. Having already made a splash in the UK with their single ‘Candy Flip’ appearing on the Too Pure Singles Club in early 2014, you could never blame them for enjoying this stroke of luck of getting this tour.
While the psych rock feeling definitely runs through the bulk of Spires’ songs, I couldn’t help but notice the haircut and swagger of Stevenson, recalling less so Mick Jagger in the Swinging Sixties and more of those ’90s charismatic Britpop frontmen Liam Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft, both of whom as of late have seen better days. As evidenced by songs like ‘Comic Book’, there seems to be a poppier undertone to their music too compared to Temples, which seems to beg for listening in almost complete darkness, with the only light coming from one spare lava lamp.
Spires also seems to have a lot of material, which is pretty good for an unknown band, and their headlining buddies were nice to let them play a pretty long opening set. Their most recently released song, just public for a mere 2 weeks, is ‘Sleepy Eyes’, which like its name suggests is a dreamy, hazy soundscape. For even more street cred, the track was engineered, mixed and produced by Connor Hanwick, who you may recall as the former drummer of The Drums.
The dressing rooms at the 9:30 Club have adjoining balconies so that bands can watch the others on their bill from a bird’s eye view. This particular night, I was wondering why Temples’ balcony seemed to full of equipment. Shortly before they went on stage, all was revealed: in addition to two blokes on the Temples’ balcony, another two had been dispatched to the other side of the club on the punters’ balcony upstairs, and all four were in charge of the pulsating, constantly changing coloured backdrop onstage that can only be described as appropriately trippy for this band. One can only assume they thought the foursome would somehow feel dwarfed by the massive stage of the 9:30 without the kind of lighting rigs only bands like Cut Copy and Kaiser Chiefs can afford, feeling desperate that they had to come up with some kind of visual gimmick of their own. While the manpower deserve an A for effort, the effect was entirely unnecessary and to be honest, mostly distracting.
So what does one do at a Temples concert? It isn’t the kind of music to mosh to, though a pair of kids near us insisted on throwing their bodies and their backpacks around, much to the chagrin of the predominately older, non-teenage crowd who preferred to be respectful, their heads bobbing side to side with the shared knowledge that they were witnessing a pretty special band play. Frontman James Bagshaw – you can’t miss him with that glam rock-y, Marc Bolan-esque, massive perm of hair almost totally obscuring his face – seemed truly touched by the reception. He smiled while commenting, “I see someone in the front who knows the words better than I do. Which is good!” There must be no greater validation for a band than to come to the world famous 9:30 and to see your fans clearly enjoying your performance. While the club wasn’t anywhere near sold out and heaving as I’ve seen for other bands, it didn’t matter: you could tell from the mood and general excitement that everyone who was there were there because they truly adored Temples, which is not something you can for most shows at this venue, often attracting hipsters who disrespectfully chat their way through sets, swilling beer.
Debut album title track ‘Sun Structures’ is fantastic in its tempo, chugging along and being less psychedelic oozy, which I can appreciate. ‘Shelter Song’, their most recognisable tune, was saved for the end of the main set and got the best reception of the night, and with good reason: it’s fun, it’s happy and you can tap your toes to it. However, the highest technical marks must go to ‘Mesmerise’, which on record is less than 4 minutes long, but Temples somehow manage to stretch over 10 minutes (I think?) with instrumental flourishes and expanses. As the song went on and on, I had to wonder when it would end, but after getting my ears screamed in a couple of times (yes, those kids again), I think it’s safe to say most punters didn’t want to see the show end. Is psychedelic rock back? Why, yes. It is.
After the cut: Temples’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Temples with Spires at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 28th October 2014
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 28th October 2014 at 2:00 pm
I love Glasgow. It’s definitely surpassed Manchester in my favourite cities in the UK. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people in a town that really shouldn’t be so friendly; if you kept your eyes to the sky above, often cloud-filled and threatening to rain if it’s not raining already. I still remember the first band interview I ever did, 5 years ago in Nottingham with Friendly Fires on their tour bus. They said they’d had an outdoor picnic before meeting up with me, as it was so unusual for Notts to be that sunny, so surely I must have brought the sunshine over from America with me.
My gift seems to have worked for this last visit to Glasgow too, as the only times when I was in Glasgow that it actually rained was after I’d gotten back from Edinburgh to see Fatherson and Model Aeroplanes Thursday night (see that review here) and after I’d emerged into the night after this show Friday night. The rain, it appeared, seemed to understand exactly how I was feeling at that moment.
The Centre for Contemporary Arts, known by everyone in town by its neat acronym CCA, is a world-class museum. Its location in Glasgow makes perfect sense: in a city with so many visionaries and creative types, you need a place like this to take these folks’ cutting edge ideas and shout them to the heavens, so to speak. I’d been promised by a local manager friend of mine that the place was gorgeous and the Glass Animals show there would be unmissable. So off I went.
First up were support act Atom Tree, local to Glasgow. Live, they’re an electronic three-piece, but Atom Tree is essentially the project of 23-year old Glaswegian Shaun Canning, who both writes and produces the act’s music. While this isn’t all uncommon to have an electronic act to be run behind the scenes in essence and to have a beguiling female vocalist out front – think Germany’s Claire, and to somewhat lesser extent, NO CEREMONY/// – Julie Knox fills her role as frontwoman well. In only black and metallic colours, she could be the ice queen of your dreams or your nightmares, whatever your poison. Mick Robertson joins Canning’s project live as drummer, choosing standing over sitting over his percussive equipment (not a full drum kit, mind) for a more dynamic presence.
Banter between songs by either Knox or Canning was minimal, but that makes total sense after the fact, now that I know Atom Tree is Canning’s baby. As a result though, I don’t know the titles of the songs they played, though I can say that I quickly became mesmerised by the Atom Tree sound. Knox’s vocals drip off of ‘See the Light’, nonchalant as she questions coldly, “our love is only real if you feel it inside / whatcha gonna do if I turn around and tell you I’m not in love with you?” The words pair perfectly with Canning’s spare synth and piano notes, as if sympathetic to the singer’s own conflict on how she feels.
Atoms are the basic building blocks of life and trees represent life and strength, so the act’s name is entirely appropriate, as Canning favours a less than more approach to his songwriting, yet without sacrificing might. In these days of overblown production in nearly every genre, it’s truly refreshing to see an electronic producer show such restraint. Major key and bombastic instrumental ‘Die For Your Love’, a track that was released to the blogosphere’s acclaim in late 2013, doesn’t suffer from lack of vocal content at all; if anything, it proves Canning’s talent for developing and creating the kind of epic soundscape that most DIY bedroom laptop producers can only dream of.
The bands I met and talked with on my trip in other cities are all in agreement that they look at Glass Animals‘ recent success in America with wide-eyed wonderment. It’s always confused me why a band will succeed in one market and not another; while I predicted the band would do well in America solely on the r&b / hip hop flavour Dave Bayley has managed to infuse into all of their songs, I also thought they’d do equally as well in the UK. I also saw them play Liverpool Magnet on this tour a week prior, and while the response was good, the energy of the crowd wasn’t anywhere near what I’d witnessed on their prior visits to Washington in July and September. Leave it to the Glaswegians to sell out the CCA and give the band, at the end of the UK leg of their European tour, a proper sendoff. The only thing missing were those 8-foot tall palm trees.
If you had the chance to see any of the shows on this UK tour, I’d bet a million (Scottish) pounds Glasgow was the one to be at. Appreciative punters yelled and whistled with approval. They stamped their feet on the all too posh, all-wood floor (apologies to the CCA, I don’t think they knew what they were in for when they booked this gig). They sang along – loudly – to ‘Gooey’. Bayley seemed impressed by the crowd reaction, complimenting the grooving of one of my new local friends down the front who seemed to have gone into a trance upon hearing the band play live for a second time. Another time, Bayley praised the city as a whole for their dancing ability. Maybe my impression that all musically-inclined Glaswegians can be found in their bedrooms late on a Sunday night with a bottle of whisky and The Twilight Sad spinning on their turntables is unfounded?
Unquestionably, the moment of the night was when Glasgow got their first chance to lay their eyes and ears on Glass Animals‘ live cover version of Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown’. I thought I would be surrounded by men and women fainting from the spectacle and for sure, there were some weak knees around me. But somehow they all righted and a carnival atmophere endured when encore closer and all-around crowd pleaser ‘Pools’ started up.
Certainly, ‘Zaba’ is going to be a hard act to follow, and so is its accompanying live show. Will Glass Animals suffer from the difficult second album? We’ll have to wait and see, but if Bayley’s assertion to Clash magazine that he’s already been writing new material while on the road and “When we do get to do another record, though, it should be quite quick…”, it will be sooner rather than later when we’ll know.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 27th October 2014 at 4:00 pm
In this pretty laid back promo video with pretty colours fading in and out, we have here The Pains of Being Pure at Heart performing ‘Kelly’, from their third studio album ‘Days of Abandon’. At the front of all this activity is Jen Goma, taking a break from her day job in A Sunny Day in Glasgow. Watch the video below.
Usually, TGTF goes out of its way to cover new music, both in terms of the age of the bands themselves, and the neological styles they might come up with. Well, tonight’s show is the complete opposite, featuring the well-worn genre of commercial bluesy pop, played by Brits, but owing a considerable debt to our transatlantic cousins who, after all, kicked the whole deal off a century or so ago.
First up is John E. Vistic, a man whose accent can’t decide where it likes the best – southern USA or southern England – and conspires to combine the two, which means he sounds like he comes from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. A pretty damp place to live, one imagines. His music is in a similar vein, clearly indebted to Dylan in its literary pretensions and casual way with pitch, but hinting at English folk. He comes nowhere close to matching the great man’s import, of course, but Vistic himself is careworn enough to provide a decent implied back story: his incapability to look the audience directly in the eye speaks of either a rocky childhood or even rockier adult years. Previously, Vistic has played electrified rock music with a band, but tonight it’s just him, his acoustic guitar, and the occasional toot on a blues harp.
‘Gamblin’ Man’ is a straightforward ditty about the perils of having a flutter; ‘Henry Miller’ is evocative of Parisienne literary decadence, whilst giving a welcome reminder of the eponymous writer’s historical significance; while ‘Miracle Mile’ proves the futility of trying to “do Dylan” – nice try, but no cigar. All told, however, Vistic does come across as a reasonably genuine article, a young-no-longer musician just trying to make an honest penny from his bare songs.
At first glance, tonight’s all-seated audience might as well be in a cataract surgeon’s waiting room, given how much life is in them. Granted, Jon Allen isn’t exactly bleeding edge hipster fare, but surely he deserves better than the gentlest of nods, the occasional foot tap, and polite yet hardly enthusiastic applause. Tonight’s set is inevitably heavy on material from third album ‘Deep River’ – starting with album opener ‘Night & Day’ is astute, showcasing as it does Allen’s fascinating husky-yet-high-pitched voice, which combines Rod Stewart and Paul Simon in a not unappealing tonal embrace. Standout single ‘Falling Back’ is next, perhaps the highlight from the album overall. The band are sharp, experts at delivering that lithe, drums- and bass-led sound which lets the lead instruments do their thing in acres of ear-space.
But as the set progresses, it becomes apparent there’s something amiss. For Jon Allen, the world begins with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, proceeds through ‘Eagles’ Greatest Hits’, and then stops for coffee and puts its feet up with Eric Clapton’s 1992 ‘Unplugged’ set. And that’s pretty much it. The gig is a deeply journeyman affair, with each song knocked out with depressing competence, as, presumably it is exactly the same every night. Minor confusion over the set list becomes a major talking point – ooh, you devil Jon, you played a couple of songs in the wrong order! Don’t tell the music police! As if in an upmarket chain restaurant, everything tonight is perfectly edible, but one can’t help but become increasingly convinced that it’s all just come out of a packet, that one’s taste buds are being tweaked, not because of the chef’s passion for experimentation, but because expert laboratory research has proved that that combination of flavours offends the least number of diners. There’s a bit of cod-funk here, a touch of cod-country there: the trouble is, it’s still cod.
It’s all too trite, too smug, too safe, a toothless facsimile of styles which were originally edgy and meaningful. Music that nobody could object to, except on the pages of a non-mainstream blog. As if that hadn’t already offended enough people, try this: there’s something deeply *the south* about the whole thing. Outside parts of London, and perhaps the South West, swathes of southern England are suicidally tasteless, but not in a scruffy way – more in a new money, white-leather-sofa-and-orange-Audi-TT way, repeated ad infinitum down innumerable streets of overpriced, new-build people-hutches. Streets in which the music of Jon Allen would fit right in. Nothing to object to, nothing to engage the brain about, and just enough kudos to get one over on the neighbours. Something dirty and northern, like Evil Blizzard, would go down like last year’s hairdo. Allen himself, in his corduroy jacket and limply arseless jeans, is the epitome of such a society, making music for middle-aged south-east divorcees to get pissed and snog to. Ugh.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 24th October 2014 at 4:00 pm
Earlier this month, Funeral for a Friend took a #STANDFORSOMETHING, playing during October’s Dr. Martens’ tour in the UK. Watch them perform ‘Roses for the Dead’ at Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire below.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 24th October 2014 at 2:00 pm
Scotland is a beautiful, unique place. So it makes total sense that everyone I know from there is also beautiful (and if the person is male, chances are he has a beautiful beard) and makes unique music or is involved in promoting music made by such musicians, such as “Uncle” Vic Galloway of BBC Radio Scotland. I feel quite lucky I’ve had the chance to visit multiple times now, and every time there are more new and exciting things I encounter that make me fall in love with Scotland that much harder. (And no, to be clear, Visit Scotland is *not* paying me to write this.)
That old phrase goes, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. One of my planned gigs in Glasgow was cancelled, but a friend messaged me a couple days before I went up to Scotland that I could instead see some other acquaintances of mine play in Edinburgh instead. I always say things happen for a reason and I want to thank five people in particular for going out of their way of making this American feel welcome, it really meant a lot, cheers gents!
To be completely honest, I knew little of Fatherson going into this gig at the University of Edinburgh’s student union, Potterrow. One piece of trivia I did know: they call Glasgow home, which makes it all the more strange that on the Scottish leg of their UK tour this month, they didn’t actually play in Glasgow, calling instead only in Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeen. However, considering I’ve just learned 2 days ago that they’ve been given a shout for SXSW 2015, the timing couldn’t be beat for me to see the Glaswegian band in action.
The main reason I’d taken the train 1 hour east (quite happily, I might add) was to see Model Aeroplanes. Regular readers of TGTF (and Generator, for that matter) will be aware that I think the world of these lads from Dundee, having met and seen them play at Liverpool Sound City this year. Despite their young age, they’re already churning out catchy guitar pop not unlike some Irish lads from Bangor called Two Door Cinema Club did a couple years ago. (And we all know what happened to them. BOOM.) Earlier this year, they released the single ‘Electricity’, which has gained them a whole new group of fans. In Edinburgh, they previewed for us upcoming single ‘Club Low’, which follows in their current vein of upbeat indie style. ‘Dive’ was another new song that got an airing, and I can’t wait until they have a full album to release, as I expect it to do massively well with well-written pop gems like this.
‘Crazy’, another previous single, is exactly the kind of thing that I would expect to blow up on Radio 1 and sounded fab, as frontman Rory Fleming-Stewart vocals bounced to match Kieran Smith drum beats, then oozed around the melody. Fleming-Stewart makes for a very charming frontman, cracking jokes between the tunes while also positively riling up the audience for what was to come. All throughout their set, I watched as Ben Buist took over his territory as Model Aeroplanes’ bassist, banging out his notes like a windmill-like, throw caution to the wind style. It was reminded why I love playing bass so much. Lead guitarist Grant Irvine looked serious all night, but I think the explanation was he was concentrating: they were supporting good friends of theirs, for what would turn out to be a huge night for the Glaswegians.
Fatherson, originally from Kilmarnock but now based in Glasgow, released their debut album ‘I Am an Island’ in April on indie A Modern Way. I can’t say I’ve even heard the album, and since it was so last-minute that I was going to show up to see them gig, I decided I wouldn’t prepare and be pleasantly surprised. I will preface my opinion of them by saying this isn’t my usual kind of music, but having seen them now and the frenzy they threw the punters in Edinburgh into with their guitar rock, I may have to rethink this. Their style is bombastic guitar rock with heart, the likes that haven’t really been seen all that much – or well for that matter – in America lately, so I expect them to do very well in America. With loads of bright flashing lights and loads of Scottish voices around me singing along to every word, it felt very strange to be witnessing a revolution of sorts, a new movement that I knew nothing about prior to this night.
The lyrics of LP opening track of ‘An Island’ may give some clues why this indie band already has very, very devoted fans in Scotland already. Singer/guitarist Ross Leighton has a booming voice (and much better than Scott Hutchison’s), and when he begins the song in a soft and measured tone, you’d have to be a robot to not feel the mourning from where these words came from. I can’t even begin to relate to the melancholic feelings that must exist in those Scots who voted yes in the referendum. In many ways, Scotland is an island: they have their own fierce identity, and damn anyone who would try and take it away from them. ‘I Like Not Knowing’, with riffs loud enough to knock you on your arse, would be a good example young indie bands should use as how to write a song with melodic guitars that builds up to a climax. Another set standout, previous single ‘Mine for Me’, starts up quickly and never loses momentum. It’s also a song that’s wonderful to sing along to.
Regardless of the referendum’s outcome, one thing I take away every time I visit Scotland is that you can never break the independent spirit of its people. I feel this very strongly every time I step into Showcasing Scotland at SXSW too. This show with Fatherson and Model Aeroplanes, with both bands seeming to be poised for the big time, was yet another sonic illustration that the Scottish music scene is alive, well and ready to rip you a new one. (Sorry! I asked around. I couldn’t come up with a more lady-like phrase to describe this.)
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